Reporting from Washington — Newt Gingrich continues to try to dig out of the hole into which he’s fallen, calling Rep. Paul Ryan to apologize for comments on Ryan's Medicare overhaul and defiantly appearing on Fox News Channel to push back at the suggestion that his fledgling presidential campaign has suffered a mortal wound.
“I made a mistake,” Gingrich said on Greta Van Susteren’s program Tuesday evening. “And I called Paul Ryan today who is a very close, personal friend, and I said that. The fact is that I have supported what Ryan has tried to with the budget.”
He said Ryan’s plan was “one I am happy to say I would have voted for. I will defend. And I will be glad to answer any Democrat who attempts to distort what I said.”
Then, when pressed by Van Susteren, he said, “Look, I made two mistakes.”
Gingrich tried to explain his criticism of Ryan’s plan Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when he called the proposal to transform Medicare into a private insurance program “right-wing social engineering.” He also suggested then that he supported some kind of individual requirement to purchase health insurance, the cornerstone of GOP opposition to the Democratic healthcare initiative.
That got Gingrich slammed by conservative pundits such as Charles Krauthammer and Rush Limbaugh, as well as politicians such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Ryan, too, was clearly chagrined, saying in a radio interview, “With allies like that, who needs the left?”
Gingrich, on Fox, said he erred in “some of the words I used” and praised Ryan for starting the “process” of having an “honest conversation” about entitlement reform.
As he has toured Iowa this week, Gingrich and his nascent campaign have been furiously trying to right the ship and dispel the notion that the former House speaker is an undisciplined candidate who is out of step with the modern GOP.
Gingrich had similar problems during the run-up to U.S. and allied operations in Libya, at times appearing to be on both sides of the question of whether America should intervene.
Democrats have seized on Gingrich’s words, using them as a GOP indictment of Ryan’s plan as too “radical” and are already trying to use them in competitive House districts.
“Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, 'cause I have said publicly that those words were inaccurate and unfortunate,” Gingrich said. “When I make a mistake, and I’m going to on occasion, I am going to stand up and share with the American people, ‘That was a mistake' because that way we can have an honest conversation.”
Gingrich took exception with Van Susteren’s suggestion that he had “blown up the Republican Party.”
“I think that’s pretty exaggerated, on every front,” he said. He said the campaign had been seeing “huge crowds” in Iowa.
He said he was "laughing" at the suggestion by the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he wasn't dedicated to substantive change.
"Our record of achieving real change ... is a pretty good standard to set," he said.
Gingrich also refused to comment on a report that his wife, Callista, ran up a titanic bill at theTiffany jewelry company.
"I'm not commenting on stuff like that," he said. "Frankly, I don't want to play the gotcha games in Washington."